The Bruins know that things like fatigue, and “the wall” they are inevitably going to hit, will be waiting for them in the second half of the regular season.
It’s just a byproduct of playing an extra 24 games last season and sporting a roster with so many key players that have already crossed over into their 30’s and 40’s, and it’s something the Bruins are fully expecting to happen.
That means it was incumbent on the Black and Gold to build up as many points as possible in the early portions of the season when their skating legs were fresh, and they could perhaps take advantage of less rust gathered after playing high-intensity hockey into the middle of June. The Bruins are doing exactly that according to plan right now after dispatching the New Jersey Devils by a 3-0 score in Saturday night’s home opener at TD Garden.
It wasn’t a perfect game by any means from the Bruins, and certainly the hapless nature of a Devils team off to an 0-3-2 start to the regular season would indicate that Jersey is having some early issues this year.
But the Bruins rode their power with goals from Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, and they rode their depth with a score from fourth liner Joakim Nordstrom in his second game from an injury that sidelined him the entire preseason.
They also rode their No. 1 goaltender with Tuukka Rask making 31 saves in his first shutout of the season while showing zero issues after his dehydration issues in Vegas. In other words, the Bruins are once again an extremely well-rounded hockey team this season that’s going to be among the best in the Atlantic Division, and in the NHL.
We knew that going into the year based on last year’s Stanley Cup Final run, but the Bruins are leaving no doubt with an excellent start even though they are far from clicking on all cylinders right now.
“I don’t think we’ve stolen a lot of points here. Our goaltending has been solid; we knew that coming in. Two veteran, professional guys, so our D corps intact. We have two guys (Kevan Miller, John Moore) injured going into this season; we knew that, but the other guys have given us some chemistry, so we know that defensive part of our game,” said Bruce Cassidy. “It’s the offensive part we’ve been working on. [We’re working on] a little chemistry up front. You start to see that come around. It was good enough to win the first two games, barely, but good enough.
“Now, you’re starting to see a little more up and down the lineup, guys creating. I think we’re full value for our record, but I do believe that our exits out of our zone have to pick up. We have to be cleaner with our managing the puck, and then some second chances around the net for some of the other lines to get rewarded. I think Krejci’s line did more of that [in] the last two games, unfortunately one got called back [on video review] so not quite there. But they’ve been getting better in that area, so it’d be nice to see them get rewarded for their work.”
The Bruins are once again rolling out an extremely top-heavy team in the early going of the season when it comes to scoring. After Danton Heinen and Brett Ritchie accounted for the offense on opening night, Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak have been responsible for seven of the 10 goals scored over the last four games for the Bruins.
Expecting the top line to provide 70 percent of the offense obviously isn’t going to be sustainable for the Black and Gold. It was an issue at times last season and once again it will be a challenge for Cassidy and Don Sweeney to diversify the offense. But holding those top line players capable of shouldering a heavy offensive burden automatically makes them better than a good 50 percent of the league, and that has been plainly obvious over the first two weeks of the regular season.
“The first few games were a little bit sloppy, but I think we’re beginning to figure it out now,” said Marchand. “We’re kind of getting back in sync. It was a little bit of a different training camp and a different feel because we all didn’t play as many games as we normally do. But we’re feeling good now. It helps when you win and luckily we’ve been able to do that a bit.”
It also helps that both Rask and Jaroslav Halak have been lights out to start the season as well. After two weeks of regular season action, the Bruins are second in the NHL in goals allowed (1.60) per game and second in the league with a .952 save percentage. Essentially their goaltending also gives them an advantage over at least 70 percent of the rest of the league.
“We’re still working on our game like every other team, and I thought that’s where Tuukka [Rask] really stepped up and that’s when he should get the credit,” said Cassidy. “In a game like this, I thought that’s when he earned his paycheck. We broke down a lot there. Trying to break pucks out and had some loose play, and he was really good.”
That elite level goaltending for the Bruins is why they may not drop into an extended slump through this entire season. It’s also one of the biggest reasons why the B’s may sidestep some of that second half “wall” they are anticipating while coming off their run to a heartbreaking Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.
The Bruins may not be blowing people away right now with their level of play, and they are certainly not clicking on all cylinders at this young point in the season. The B’s are showing that they are once again top caliber in the NHL this season, and they are doing what they absolutely need to do by getting off to a strong start to what’s going to be a long, taxing 82-game marathon for them.
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